Dangers of Confusing Productivity with Flexibility & Mobility

We haver never lived in such a time where computing was so accessible. With the mainstream use of Office 365 and Azure services remote working has become an ever popular and often the main selling point to a business. The internet is awash with how great it is that people can access more than just their e-mail away from the office, especially in my area of expertise, Skype for Business was really the big thing that untied a user to their desk.

But, while being able to connect anywhere in the world to your business core operations is fantastic, it does hold some hidden dangers if abused, or people are generally negligent. I think that there is a definite confusion with productivity and flexible working. Some people that think being able to use Microsoft Teams for instance in a coffee shop is being productive. It is not, that is being flexible. There is no doubt that the two are intertwined at some level, but that only becomes true if you’re in the coffee shop because you have no where else to go and you need to use their free wifi to complete an important work product. It is not being productive to think I know, I’ll go to Starbucks because I want a coffee and while I am there, I’ll answer some emails maybe or pretend I am working, when really my primary focus is meeting my friends for a coffee and toastie.

Focussing in on productivity for a moment. There are really two types of definitions to the term based on what the person thinks about their productiveness. Person A will think that being productive means multi-tasking, trying to half complete work throughout the day in small chunks while flicking between email, chat, phone, word etc. When they finish they think because they have worked in so many workstreams they have been productive. Person B will think being productive is sitting down, uninterrupted and focussed on a specific deliverable, a single task with no distractions.

Now I have tried both personas out. I find when I am person A, I am more stressed because when I look back of what I have achieved in that day I find I wasted a lot of time managing noise and waffle. I didn’t achieve what I set out to at 9am in the morning and now I am under pressure to hit deadlines as a result. When I work in Person B mode, I am a lot calmer, focussed and relaxed. I find that signing out of Teams, Skype for Business and Outlook is liberating and allows me to get what I needed done. I finish on time and can spend time with my family at the end of the day knowing that I have hit my delivery target for that day.

The dangers of being Person A is that you become an expert procrastinator, you never deliver a work package on time, or if you do, you have to put in extra hours in the evening to do so. In fact the tools that are supposed to make us productive have an alternative ego that is set out to destroy you. Unless of course you and your work colleagues can be disciplined and understand that Busy means Busy and not ping the hell out of you until you respond.

Now when I approach each day I have to write on my whiteboard, what is it I want to achieve today, and what priority. I’ll then work through those tasks without disruption. If I know that the task is going to take all day, or multiple days I will split my day into parts. I will make myself available to others for blocks of 30 minutes throughout the day to respond to emails, or phone calls or chats, but the rest of the day I am focussed on delivering my own workstream. A typical day in my life is

Time Activity
09:00-10:30 Focussed Work
10:30-11:00 Email, Chat and Phone Calls
11:00-12:30 Focussed Work
12:30-13:00 Email, Chat and Phone Calls
13:00-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 Focussed Work
15:30-16:00 Email, Chat and Phone Calls
16:00:17:30 Focussed Work
17:30 Finish for the day

I find if I don’t work to this schedule and go all ad-hoc (Person A) then I waste several days a month and I am less productive as a result. Lunch is critically important, this is my time away from work and I will take the entire hour. Often people fall into bad habits and the thing I can’t stand is when someone emails me with an invite saying “I notice you’re free 1-2pm so I’ve put a meeting in your diary”. Like hell you will lol DECLINE. So now, I block book my dinner our out in my diary as out of office private appointment. I need this time to unwind, refresh, grab some air, play with the kids so I can face the afternoon. And when I come back I am motivated to carry on. Also when I was person A, I found myself coming back to the PC after my family had gone to bed and working until 1-2am just to get stuff done. There are times of course that this in unavoidable, but it shouldn’t be promoted as being productive or expected by the employer.

You’ll notice in my schedule that I don’t look at emails at the beginning of the day, nor on my immediate return from lunch. This is purposeful, because at these times I am the most motivated to do my tasks. I find reading emails at the start of the morning, or afternoon, they can be quite depressing and distracting and they can often completely change the course of the day. Trust me email cannot be that important, if the world was on fire, you’d be getting phone calls. Email is like standard parcel delivery, not important, deliver when possible type of communication.

We are all individuals and we know what works best for us in terms of life and work. Some people like the ability to login at 11pm at night and write a document. The action of logging in is not productive its flexible. The content you get done at that time is the productive element. People can think I am a 9-5 guy and I am fine with that. I get paid for 7.5 hours a day, where and how I choose to spend those hours is the most important elements. If you are working any longer than this per day then ask yourself are you being productive or are you being a mug? Unless you’re getting paid overtime, the only winner here is your employer getting work for free and giving you nothing in return. You may think that getting $3,4000 a year pay rise in recognition for your hard work is a good result, but before you come to that conclusion, total up all those extra hours by your hourly rate and if it less that your pay rise, bonus, if not then who is the one laughing? You should be recognised for your hard work while being on the clock, not being expected to go the extra mile on a daily basis. Now and then is OK, but more than that becomes expectation.

Now on to flexibility. Flexibility is being able to work within the parameters of your life in the easiest least friction way. This may be office based, or other forms of working. Its about work pattern management for the employee. Again being flexible is about allowing the employee to choose how they spend their 7.5 hours working day. Some, may be required to work a consecutive hour shift due to business needs, but others may be able to split their day between the school run or some other commitment that they have that would otherwise be problematic to them if they were office based.

Being flexible isn’t giving the employee a free roam card, because as an employer how do you track that you’ve got 7.5 hours out of that person on a particular day? You have to develop some kind of trust at the foundation level and then set some ground principles that employees have to work to. For instance it may be acceptable to start work at 10am because the employee has to drop their children off at school, and then for them to take 3-4pm out to go and collect and drop off at the child minders for instance, as long as the 2 hours can be worked back during extended working hours for that employee, i.e. after the kids have gone to bed, or they have support from their partner. But taking multiple random time-outs throughout the day for low priority reasons like getting your haircut, your nails done (Chris Ovett), or popping to the shops to do some quick shopping. These can and should be done at times where you don’t conflict with work.

The real question that needs to be asked by management is “Are you happy with the output of employee X today?” If you can evaluate that indeed they have contributed to a level of your expectations then flexibility is working for them. If not then perhaps they are struggling with some element and need a little direction. Obviously, a daily track isn’t feasible but you’ll get a understanding over a week or so. The important bit is not to ignore it and take action before it manifests as something far more permanent.

Finally Mobility, and this is where technology has really played a part in driving modern working. Mobility is allowing your employees to work from almost any location they choose within the parameters of what the business accepts as suitable mobility locations. Being able to access your phone system, your email, your files from pretty much any device any where is a massive win for employees and compliments the principles of productivity and flexibility. It makes the employees working environment far more elastic and generally works out more productive for the employee and employer.

Windows 10, Azure Authentication, Microsoft Intune and the Microsoft 365 suite is an awesome toolset to enable your business to promote a secure productive, flexible and mobile workplace. With MDM/MAM, DLP Policies controlling data access on certified devices, and Azure MFA with conditional access controlling where from and what you can access secures company assets through enterprise grade security.

However, there is one cog in the wheel that will forever prove to be the weakest link, and that is YOU! The company may have a fantastic security system, but if you’re not aware of your surroundings then you put yourself and your company at risk. I’ve seen many people in Starbucks, Hotel lobbies, Trains, Busses, Airport Lounges etc. with their laptops open Outlook on show, some corporate confidential document on display zoomed in at 150%, talking on their phone or Skype to customers and having potentially confidential conversations.

The lack of awareness people have in these areas astounds me. They say hacking a business now is almost too much work from a pure technology attack surface. Instead hackers will sit in these public places and wait patiently for a target. How do you know some one isn’t taking a photograph of your screen, watching your key strokes as you sign into your work email or recording your conversation that you’re having with your customer? Its not just hackers that you have to worry about, corporate espionage is just as real if not higher risk. Imagine your on a train, talking to a customer about a deal. You disclose your numbers over the phone, but unbeknown to you 2 seats forward there is a person who is working for your competitor. Guess what? Their bid is going to be less than yours now and you lose the deal!

People really need to think about what they are doing, and where they are. For instance, if you’re working in a coffee shop or somewhere, try and get a seat where there is a wall behind you, so that you are not compromised from the rear. Think about the conversation your about to have? Generally if you’re going to make a call, then you’ll know if it’s going to be confidential, so seek a private spot away from peoples ears. Can it wait until you get to your hotel room for instance? If you’re receiving a call and the call is turning sensitive explain it to the caller and that you’ll call back when you’re in a more secure location. They will understand and respect you more. The way I put it to you is this. If you had to pay for something over the phone and you knew the person the other end of the phone was in a public place because you can hear background noise, and they repeated your card number and details as you give them, would you be happy? NO!

So in summary, the art to modern working is a mix of all three elements, but they have to be in balance. You can be productive without being flexible. Flexible only has a return on investment if you can be productive and when mobile be aware of your surroundings, technology cannot solve that for you!

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